Inspiration, by Design

Asheville Citizen-Times, January 2012
Inspiration, by Design: Quick format presentation series returns to Asheville Friday

By Carol Motsinger, photography by John Fletcher


 For John Dean, design isn’t just a college degree.

“Design is all around us,” Dean said, who is a freelance designer and promoter of Pecha Kucha Night Asheville, an art- and design-focused presentation series returning Friday.

“We think of it when we set the table for dinner, we witness it when we admire sculpture, it is what attracts us to cool websites, and it is what inspires most of our consumer choices. … Witnessing design is a unique human attribute. Some people do it for a living; some people just admire it.”

Pecha Kucha Night is a design forum with more than 460 installments across the globe. Friday night’s event at the Phil Mechanic Studios will be Asheville’s fifth installment in about two years.

Dean wanted to bring the idea to Asheville “in an effort to develop a salonlike forum in which we could discuss, refine and explore design — big, small, professional and amateur.”

Presenters each show 20 slides for 20 seconds each, meaning the total presentation can only be 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

“They move along without fail, forcing the presentation to keep up with the images,” Dean said. “The presentation format is long enough to allow for a succinct, substantial narrative, and short enough for a shy person to tackle.”

Friday’s lineup includes Kitty Love, arts advocate and head of Asheville Area Arts Council; Rob Seven, Asheville folk artist; Ursula Gullow, arts writer/blogger and painter; and Brian Dunsmore, marketing director with The Wine Studio of Asheville.

“This presentation will have slides from artists, graphic designers, craft persons, culinary artists, nondesign professionals, graffiti artists, illustrators and community organizers,” Dean said.

Asheville artist Kenn Kotara has attended Pecha Kucha Night before but will be manning the projector for the first time Friday.

“I think it’s an exciting format,” Kotara said. “I like the succinct brevity of it. You are able to put your ideas out there. It’s more like sketches if you think of it in terms of artwork. These are the quick sketches.”

Kotara said his presentation explores color and form, but the 20 slides in his script keeps changing.

“I added a new image the other day when I was watching a program with my son and this image made me realize and connect with something,” Kotara said.

Kotara can find design in everything, from automobiles to clothing to thought processes. “Design has to be looked at as not just a pretty thing, but something that fulfills the aggressive evolution of humanity,” he said.

Dean has been most impressed by past presenters who “work outside of the design profession, but tinker in their spare time making amazing and unique objects out of things in their basement.”

Ron Larsen, who manufactures educational tools for autistic children, produced one of these memorable slide shows, Dean said.

“Through his presentation, Ron showed how great design can be achieved by listening to and learning with the end-user,” he said.

“Ron’s presentation also described his process of creating a series of incredibly useful educational tools out of a common bit of waste, the average shoebox. Through his efforts, he cleverly created learning tools out of shoeboxes, crafting or using them in a variety of ways in order to understand and educate autistic patients.”


the bucket, the water, the well

September, 2010

“the bucket, the water, the well,” Flanders Gallery, Raleigh, NC

by Lauren Turner 


“It was this hazy tangle from tree to tree which made it all look so mysterious.” – Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden, 1911

“Nothing could exceed the intentness with which this scientific gardener examined every shrub which grew in his path; it seemed as if he was looking into their inmost nature, making observations in regard to their creative essence, and discovering why one leaf grew in this shape, and another in that, and wherefore such and such flowers differed among themselves in hue and perfume. Nevertheless, in spite of the deep intelligence on his part, there was no approach to intimacy between himself and these vegetable existences. On the contrary, he avoided their actual touch, or the direct inhaling of their odors, with a caution that impressed Giovanni most disagreeably; for the man’s demeanor was that of one walking among malignant influences, such as savage beasts, or deadly snakes, or evil spirits, which, should he allow them one moment of license, would wreak upon him some terrible fatality. It was strangely frightful to the young man’s imagination, to see this air of insecurity in a person cultivating a garden, that most simple and innocent of human toils, and which had been alike the joy and labor of the unfallen parents of the race. Was this garden, then, the Eden of the present world?–and this man, with such a perception of harm in what his own hands caused to grow, was he the Adam?” – Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” 1844

“the bucket, the water, and the well” – it is a phrase that echoes the incantational power of Catholicism’s “bell, book, and candle.” And well should it imitate the excommunicative curse, that finality so often utilized to divorce spiritual canon from personal experience and exploration. Kenn Kotara’s ethereal drawings, paintings, and mobiles continue a tradition of surveying one’s innermost and outermost worlds by surrounding himself with pleasing aesthetics, oftentimes resulting in both revelatory and unsettling discoveries.

Upon entering a gallery installation of Kotara’s works, one is immediately reminded of landscape design’s “il giardino segreto” (“the secret garden”). Be it Kotara’s semitransparent cut-wire screens – intentionally evocative of Spanish moss – or his blooming, fractal-like drawings, the space invites the viewer to discover and explore abstracted naturalistic imagery. However, in his clever framing of paintings – such as the layered oval windows tightly cropping out wider views in Conspicuous Crepuscular Bioluminescence – and the smudged areas of his intricately detailed works on paper, the presentation has the calculated effect of leaving visitors continuing to search and feeling like the keystone of comprehension is just beyond their grasp. Additionally, the layered treatment of lines in many of his paintings builds up a haze by using one opaque layer after another. Because this journey occurs within a walled, enclosed space and includes delicately floral-like abstract designs, it very fittingly gives the impression of a secret garden.

The secret garden, while typically describing walled enclosures within the history of garden design, had its most conceptual grounding in Renaissance Italy. Then it would have been one of the last areas of a garden to be admired, should the wanderer even be permitted within its perimeter. Its purpose was to serve as a sanctuary for noblemen that afforded the peace necessary for humanistic introspection. While it would seem to be the happy center for the kind of holistic healing espoused by Burnett in The Secret Garden, it was the place where philosophies of all kinds could take root, whether the sermons of the Church, or the instructions of Machiavelli. It could provide fertile soil for all ideas, regardless of their moral implications.

Admittedly, should one consider only Kotara’s abstract paintings, screens, and drawings on view, then this comparison would seem a stretch of the imagination. It is that he presents these alongside his Braille-based experiments in Minimalism that heightens the sense of unchecked meditation of all senses, and not simply the visual. Minimalism can suggest an aesthetic style celebrating physical properties divorced from a message. Kotara’s Braille works upend this expectation. For the seeing, these pieces do pass as studies of dots on richly colored and textured papers. For those proficient in reading Braille, they present classics of Western literature like Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” The content of these pieces becomes immediately apparent: It is mankind’s attempt to come to terms with the good and bad of his world. The very fact that the pieces have pointed content disarms them of their Minimalism. They are studies in seeing beyond looking.

In other words, further meaning is always present in one’s surroundings for those who are willing to look beyond their limited scope of experience and senses. The garden, like art, can be more than its arrangement; it is its odors, sounds, and textures as well. Also, one cannot simply learn about a plant’s growth by observing it; he must also study, at potential risk, everything that makes up its being, even the water that came from the well and its bucket.

Installation Review

September, 2007

Spanish moss grew into series…“Studio View” by Kenn Kotara is part of his “petite cheniere” exhibit opening Thursday at the Abercrombie Gallery.

Review by Warren Arceneaux, American Press


Growing up in Lake Charles, Kenn Kotara would see visitors from other parts of the country take moss back with them after visiting Louisiana. A few years ago, Kotara began having images of that moss and his home state’s landscape, leading him to create a series of works that will be shown at McNeese State University in the artist’s homecoming exhibit.

The exhibit, titled “petite cheniere,” will be on display Sept. 27-Oct. 18 in McNeese’s Abercrombie Gallery. An opening reception will be 6-8 p.m. Thursday in the gallery.

The “petite cheniere” exhibit is an installation of 11 suspended screen structures and 23 works on canvas and paper. The body of work is part of an ongoing series titled “Barbe
espagnole” (Spanish moss), which explores the metaphorical potential of Spanish moss and
reflects Kotara’s Louisiana roots.

“I had been away from Louisiana for 15 years, then something about the landscape started calling me back, and I started the Spanish moss series,” said Kotara, a Lake Charles native and graduate of Barbe High School.

“Moss has always been interesting to me, the mystery of it. People would come down to visit
from Ohio or Arizona, and they would want to take it back. But it would not grow there, it would die. But with these works, I can take the moss with me. In the larger picture, it is part of the unique Louisiana culture. Every city in America is similar; every one has a McDonald’s and a Starbucks. But the moss will only grow along the coast in the South.

“The “Barbe espagnole” series includes more than 50 works and is still growing.

“I lack the ability to name things, so I give works in the series numbers, and there are 50 now, plus some other that look similar but are not titled that way. I am not close to exhaustion in terms of the ideas I have to add to the series. The screens in the exhibit are not named as part of the series, but are close to the series in theme.”

Louisiana themes have been part of Kotara’s art from the beginning.

“When I was growing up there, I was always drawing landscapes, waterfowl and other wildlife,”he said. “Now living in a mountainous region of North Carolina, I miss the flatness of

Kotara did not take up art formally until he was 28.

“That was when I took my first drawing course,” he said. “I was originally studying architecture, but decided that wasn’t for me. Then I decided to do graphic design. I did that as an undergrad,but studied studio art as a grad student. I began painting at night and on weekends while I was working in graphic design. I started doing realistic and representational works, then movedtoward abstract works. I love those because there is something intangible in them; they are coming from somewhere, based on my experiences. Part of each work has some of my history in it, and has a history of its own as a piece. And I like that I can determine when a piece is finished. Each one is like a journey, where I can determine the outcome.”

The screen structures are layered, hung arrangements of fiberglass screens depicting an abstract image. Each semi-transparent panel consists of opaque linear drawings using acrylic paint, and/or cut outs. The configuration changes as the viewer moves around the sculpture.

The structures range in size from 6-10 feet high and from 1-4 feet wide and deep. The canvases embody the moodiness and mystery of Spanish moss and its environment and range in size from 4-6 feet to a grid of 15 2-by-2-foot canvases.

Kotara did show his work here once before. He was the official artist for Contraband Days
Festival in 1996. He designed the poster and exhibited his work in the lobby of the Calcasieu
Marine National Bank Tower, now Capital One.

He attended McNeese and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Louisiana Tech
University. He lives in Asheville, N.C., with his wife and son.

His work is in public and corporate collections including the Asheville Art Museum, Louisiana
State Museum, Masur Museum, Bellagio Resort Las Vegas, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Neiman
Marcus, Sumisho Hotel Tokyo, the U.S. Embassy, Jamaica, and Wachovia Bank Charlotte.
Find out more at The Abercrombie Gallery in the Shearman Fine Arts Center is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays. For more information, call McNeese Art at 475-5060.